The German National Party (NPD) is expected to record its best result in six years on Sunday when disgruntled voters in the eastern states of Brandenburg and Saxony go to the polls.
NPD sympathy is growing in the discontented eastern states
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder recently called them the "brown sump," stating that anything to do with them "damages us, damages Germany and damages us with foreign investors."
He was referring to right-wing extremist parties which appear to be exploiting voter discontentment, specifically in the disadvantaged eastern regions of Germany, over a string of labor market reforms recently passed by the federal government, to gain further footholds in the political arena.
According to the latest polls, both the right-wing National Party (NPD) and German People's Union (DVU) parties appear set to clear the 5 percent hurdle needed to gain seats in the state parliaments at state elections in Brandenburg and Saxony this weekend. Just one week ago, the NPD scored 4 percent of the votes in the western German state of Saarland.
The prospects of a further rise of the NPD has already prompted warnings from business aleaders and political experts who say it could deter future foreign investors in Saxony, which is home to major car plants and factories. "There's a clear damage to the image of the state. There's a lot of foreign interest in the election," Oskar Niedermayer, politics professor and expert on the right wing at Berlin's Free University told Reuters. "Saxony is reliant on foreign investment in many areas."
The NPD remains one of the largest of the country's right-wing groups. It typically campaigns on an anti-foreigner platform and is opposed to the European Union. It is viewed as more radical than other right-wing parties and its manifesto talks of "multi-cultural excesses" and the need to revise Germany's borders. Its currenty party platform concentrates almost exclusively on attacking the government's labor law reforms.
Numbers are sketchy as to how many members it has but the most recent figures suggest around 6,000 official party members while federal government figures puts the overall number of people involved in the right-wing movement in Germany at about 41,500 -- although this includes many who are affiliated to smaller factions and other larger groups other than the NPD.
A merger of fascist ideals
The NPD was founded in 1964 and launched its youth organization, the Junge Nationaldemokraten (Young National Democrats), five years later. Its creation was an amalgamation of several older right-wing parties including the Deutsche Reichspartei (DRP, German Empire Party), Deutsche Nationale Volkspartei (DNVP, German National People's Party). It later attracted members of parties banned under the German constitution such as the former Sozialistische Reichspartei (SRP, Socialist Empire Party).
Within four years of its creation, the NPD tasted its first success of sorts in state elections, gaining 9.8 percent of the vote in the southern state of Baden-Württemburg in 1968. Between 1966 and 1972, the party won seats in seven of the 11 West German state parliaments. However, in federal elections the NPD has never got beyond the 5 percent necessary for getting seats in the Bundestag, Germany's Federal Parliament.
Extremism creates competition
The Deutsche Volksunion wants German jobs for the Germans.
In the 1970s, a rise in left-wing parties and organizations in Germany weakened the profile of the NPD. However, the same could not be said for the right-wing movement as a whole. By the 1980s, the NPD found itself in competition with two new right-wing parties: the Republikaner (REP, Republicans) and the DVU (Deutsche Volksunion, German People's Union).
In 1989, the Republikaner succeeded in entering the West Berlin parliament, as it also did in Baden-Württemberg in 1992 and 1996. The DVU also triumphed in the late nineties, gaining 12.9 percent of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt's state election in 1998.
NPD increases radical stance
In a bid to distinguish itself from other right-wing organizations, the NPD significantly changed its party politics in the 1990s, further radicalizing both its manifesto and style. The nineties saw an explosion in active demonstrations in favor of participation in elections under the "Kampf um die Straße" -- Battle for the Street -- campaign.
The decade also saw a rise in popularity for the party among loosely organized violent neo-Nazi groups whose participants swelled the numbers of the NPD. The JN youth organization was particularly instrumental in attracting young neo-Nazis to the party.
Growing neo-Nazi violence in Germany during late 1990s spawned a discussion on banning the NPD and other right-extremist parties. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder originally saw the idea as a simple "bit of political hygiene." He and other German leaders would ask the Federal Constitutional Court, the country's highest, to ban the NPD as a way of removing some unsightly litter from the country's political landscape.
Attempted ban overturned by court
But Schröder's scrubbing action soon got bogged down in a legal mess of its own. After filing the petition in 2001, officials eventually had to concede that their case was based in part on statements made by government informants who were members of the party's leadership. In March 2003, the German Constitutional Court threw out Schröder's effort because of the government's infiltration of the party.
The judges of the 2nd Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court.
In Germany, a political party can be banned if the court determines that the group is a threat to the country's democratic order or seeks to overturn that order. In the nearly 54-year history of the Federal Republic of Germany, the court has banned only two parties. In 1952, it banned the Socialist Reich Party, in which former Nazis had collected, and it forced the Communist Party of Germany to disband in 1956.
The NPD escaped the ban despite being widely regarded as racist, anti Semitic, against immigration and the admittance of crimes by the Third Reich. And yet, with its current message of support for Germans' rights apparently being heeded by more and more desperate voters in the east, the NPD could yet claim another small victory against democracy this weekend.